Copenhagen Consensus

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The Copenhagen Consensus is an effort by controversial Danish public figure Bjorn Lomborg to develop a prioritized list of solutions to the world's great challenges, such as diseases, malnutrition, sanitation, and climate. It has been criticized on the grounds that the process has been put to "dishonest uses" to bolster Lomborg's attacks on the Kyoto agreement[1] - "the way he dwells on the climate change rather on the topics that he sees as more important serves to belittle the importance of climate change rather than finding solutions to the other problems"[2] , and that its framing - only looking five years out - biases the outcome "in such a way [as] to ignore long term strategic decision in favor [of] short term fixes (so-called ‘fire extinguishing’)."[2]

The individual parts of the process dealing with topics other than climate (such as AIDS and access to water) have been more generally welcomed.

A Lomborg-directed Copenhagen Consensus Center has since been created.


In early March 2004, Lomborg held a media briefing in London announcing the conference. "The world faces a number of serious problems such as pollution, hunger and disease. Which problem should be addressed first? There are 800 million people starving, 2.5 billion people lacking sewerage, and billions affected by climate change. We all wish that there were money enough to solve all problems. But our means are limited. Therefore policy-makers prioritize every day, but not always on the best basis. Copenhagen Consensus will provide a framework to allow us to make better prioritizations," Lomborg wrote in a media statement.

On April 7, Lomborg, Jagdish Bhagwati, the Washington correspondent for The Economist, Dominic Ziegler, and the U.S. marketing director for Cambridge University Press, Sloane Lederer, held a U.S. launch at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.[1]

Due to take place over May 24-28 2004 - with the support of The Economist magazine - it will take the form of a meeting of a selection of nine eminent, generally right-wing economists, all of whom are from wealthy, industrialised countries. These economists will consider a set of ten "challenge papers" on subjects such as education and climate change, and prioritise economic solutions to these problems. The ten challenge papers will be published as a collection by Cambridge University Press, which published the English language version of Lomborg's The Sceptical Environmentalist.

The experts will discuss ten problems selected by Lomborg and the panel: climate change, communicable diseases, conflicts, education, financial instability, governance and corruption, malnutrition and hunger, migration, sanitation and water, and subsidies and trade barriers. According to an editorial in The Economist the issues selected were selected by the panel from a list developed by Lomborg's institute which in turn were selected "from aims identified in various contexts by the United Nations and other international bodies." [2]

Since the conference was first announced, five of the seven board members of the EAI have resigned: two for personal reasons, and three in protest at the conference, which they say goes far beyond the EAI's original remit by considering subjects such as financial instability, corrupt governance and infectious diseases. [3], [4]

The exercise has been strongly criticised by NGOs such as Oxfam for drawing attention away from the existing consensus built up over several years and codified in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

It has also attracted criticism for an approach which tries to define development goals without involving any representatives from developing countries.

Finally, it has been questioned if a panel of exclusively free-market thinkers, several of whom have published views sceptical of the Kyoto consensus, can produce what is supposedly a neutral output on the issue.

As Australian economist and blogger, John Quiggin, wrote: "What can we say about this list? The Nobel prizewinners are obviously eminent, but they're not the names that spring to the front of my mind when I think about a question like setting global priorities for development and the environment. Heckman is a micro-econometrician, Smith is an experimenter, focusing on micro issues, and Fogel and North are economic historians (North's ideas are relevant to the big-picture issues of growth and development, so he's a partial exception, but only a partial one)," he wrote.

"The problem becomes clearer when I consider the names of those Nobelists who would be obvious candidates, including Kenneth Arrow, Joseph Stiglitz, James Mirrlees, Robert Solow and Amartya Sen. All of these economists have made extensive contributions to the theory of economic growth and development, and all have been keenly interested in environmental issues. Unfortunately for Lomborg, though, all except Mirrlees are strong supporters of action to mitigate global warming. Having looked at the absentees, I look back at the list of inclusions and note that the one thing they have in common is that they are all generally regarded as right-wing," he wrote. [5].

More recently, the conference approach has been amended to include a number of "opponents" [6]. It is not quite clear what these people are "opposing": the opponents on the issue of climate change, Robert Mendelsohn and Alan Manne, have both produced research which happens to support Lomborg's own views on global warming. Mendelsohn, for example, has said that "for the world as a whole, the benefits [of global warming] are offsetting the damages" [7], and Manne has produced a study with the Electric Power Research Institute which claim that the costs of the Kyoto protocol will be unecessarily high: waiting 20 years to start reductions would lower the cost of emissions reductions by 40 percent, he claims [8].

At the March press conference the deputy editor of The Economist, Clive Crook, was keen to hustle what he hoped would be the international significane of the event. "We hope that the meeting in Copenhagen will have global implications both academically and politically. Copenhagen Consensus is an outstanding, visionary idea and deserves global coverage," he wrote in a media statement. [9]

Lomborg told BBC Online that his expectation was that the conference would provide direction on funding priorities. "The world faces a series of serious problems such as pollution, hunger and disease. Which problem should be addressed first? … We all wish there was enough money to solve every problem. But there is a limit to how much money we have. Therefore politicians prioritise every day, but not always on the best basis. Copenhagen Consensus will provide a framework to allow us to prioritise sensibly," he told BBC Online. [10]

However, Lomborg has made abundantly clear that allocating resources to combatting climate change would be at a cost of what he points to as more important issues such as access to clean drinking water. [11]

"I'm not saying that this [climate change] is a question of me saying, "oh, it's going to be a little problem", I'm saying all of the models have looked at, what will be the costs and benefits. We should do something else. We can actually do a lot more good elsewhere," Lomborg said in one interview. [12]

(The argument expressed by economists such as John Quiggin, that Kyoto will achieve both the reduction of emissions and the movement of capital to poorer countries, is not set to be considered during the exercise.)

In an editorial explaining the purpose of the conference, even The Economist itself seems resigned to the outcomes being ignored because of the narrowness of the panel. "And if the Copenhagen panel of experts does manage, despite these difficulties, to reach some kind of substantive agreement, there is little reason to suppose that politicians or the wider public will go along with a consensus reached among a group of economists, a tribe renowned in the wider world for its desiccated view of human welfare," The Economist wrote.

The Economist rather bizarrely - and with a touch of arrogance - foreshadows that if the conference outcomes are ignored it will simply confirm the superiority of the panel's intellectual analysis over the populist tendencies of the public and decision makers. "... The fact remains that governments already have very large aid budgets, which they apportion somehow among competing demands -- doubtless paying more attention to the fluctuating pressures of press and television than any consistent or coherent method of analysis. Implicitly, their decisions already reflect underlying estimates of costs and benefits, but the process is arbitrary and closed to inspection. Even if the Copenhagen Consensus project does no more than force that fact to be acknowledged, it will have been worth the trouble," the Economist forlornly concludes. [13]

Results Global Crises, Global Solutions (ISBN 0521606144) is a book presenting the first conclusions of the Copenhagen Consensus, edited by Bjørn Lomborg, published in 2004 by the Cambridge University Press.

The 17 different options were ranked in this order: 1. Control of HIV/AIDS 2. Providing micro nutrients 3. Trade liberalisation 4. Control of malaria 5. Development of new agricultural technologies 6. Small-scale water technology for livelihoods 7. Community-managed water supply and sanitation 8. Research on water productivity in food production 9. Lowering the cost of starting a new business 10. Lowering barriers to migration for skilled workers 11. Improving infant and child nutrition 12. Reducing the prevalence of low birth weight 13. Scaled-up basic health services 14. Guest worker programmes for the unskilled 15. Optimal carbon tax 16. The Kyoto Protocol 17. Value-at-risk carbon tax

More information about these results can be obtained at the Consensus' website.


According to the conference website the sponsors are

  • The Tuborg Foundation and The Carlsberg Bequest to the Memory of Brewer I.C. Jacobsen with 1,1 million Danish Kroner
  • The Ministry of the Environment with 2 million Danish Kroner.
  • The Economist magazine [14]

Panel of Experts

Challenge Paper authors


  • Robert Mendelsohn, Edwin Weyerhaeuser Davis Professor, Professor of Economics, and Professor in the School of Management.
  • Alan Manne professor emeritus of operations research at Stanford University.
  • Jacques van der Gaag Professor of Development Economics, University of Amsterdam, Dean of the Department of Economics and Econometrics.
  • Michael Intriligator Professor of Economics, Political Science and Policy Studies, University of California, Los Angeles and Senior Fellow, Milken Institute;
  • Tony Addison Professor, Deputy Director, Project Director, Senior Research Fellow, World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) of the United Nations University (UNU)
  • Paul Schultz Malcolm K. Brachman Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, Yale University.
  • Ludger Woessmann Dr. Head of Department, Research Department "Human Capital and Structural Change", ifo Institute of Economic Research at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität.
  • Charles Wyplosz Professor of Economics, and Director of the International Centre for Money and Banking Studies, Graduate Institute of International Economics, Geneva.
  • Peter Blair Henry Associate Professor of Economics in the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.
  • Jens Andvig Senior Researcher, Dr. philos (Ph.D) in Economics, University of Oslo
  • Jean Cartier-Bresson Professor of Economics, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin en Yvelines, France.
  • Peter Svedberg Professor of Development Economics, The Institute for International Economic Studies.
  • Simon Appleton Dr., Senior Lecturer in Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  • Mark Rosenzweig, Mohamed Kamal Professor of Public Policy, at Kennedy School, Harvard.
  • Roger Böhning, Director, Programme on Promoting the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, International Labour office, Geneva.
  • John Boland, J.J. Hermans Professor of Chemistry
  • Jan Pronk, Professor Theory and Practice of International Development, Institute of Social Studies. Former Minister for Development Cooperation, The Netherlands and Special Envoy Secretary General United Nations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
  • Arvind Panagaryia, Professor of Economics at Columbia University [15]

Contact information

Director Bjorn Lomborg
Ph 45 7226 5800
Project Manager Henrik Meyer
Phone: 45 7226 5820

Articles and Resources


  1. John Quiggin (2005-01-21). Copenhagen review. Retrieved on 2010-11-12. “...The Sceptical Environmentalist, a book that claimed to refute a "litany" of environmental woes. In most cases, Lomborg argued that the severity of problems had been overstated or that progress in mitigation had been ignored. When it came to global warming, however, neither of these claims seemed plausible, and Lomborg adopted a different tack. Rather than disputing the scientific evidence of global warming, he argued that the cost of addressing the problem through the Kyoto protocol would be better spent dealing with more urgent issues, such as the provision of clean drinking water in the Third World. There are a variety of problems with this argument, one of the most notable being that the most cost-effective approach to mitigating global warming would be a global emissions trading scheme that would require rich countries to buy emissions rights from poor countries, providing funds that could be used for initiatives of the kind Lomborg proposes. Rather contradictorily, Lomborg went on to argue that, precisely because of the large transfers from rich to poor countries they would require, emissions trading schemes would not be politically feasible.”
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rasmus Benestad (2006-07-24). The Copenhagen Consensus. RealClimate. Retrieved on 2010-11-12. “...Lomborg’s communication strategy is to pit several worthy causes up against each other, when in fact all needs to be addressed. Furthermore, the way he dwells on the climate change rather on the topics that he sees as more important serves to belittle the importance of climate change rather than finding solutions to the other problems...”

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